x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Europe's right-wing leaders close their eyes to the obvious

Some on the far right in Europe have been alarmingly unwilling to distance themselves from the Norwegian killer.

The same Islamophobic blogo-sphere that so quickly, and so incorrectly, blamed the Norway attacks on Islamist militants also seems to have been a major inspiration for the murders. Minutes after the news agencies announced the explosion in Oslo on July 22, the speculation began. Pamela Geller, a US blogger and a co-founder of Stop Islamisation of America, asked on the widely read blog Atlas Shrugs: "Jihad in Norway?" The same thought swept almost triumphantly across the internet, where some sites have tens of thousands of readers daily. The Oslo bomber was one such avid reader, cutting and pasting liberally from so-called counter jihad blogs like Gates of Vienna and Jihad Watch in his 1,500-page manifesto.

Anders Breivik's ideological inspiration can also be found in the extreme right-wing group English Defence League (EDL), which arose from the British hooligan milieu. Breivik allegedly took part in EDL demonstrations and was in contact with several EDL members.

The league has since tried to distance itself from Breivik, but its leader, Stephen Lennon, warns that something like Oslo could happen in Britain, too, if the anger of the people continues to be swept under the carpet. The sentiment is echoed across the "counter-jihad" sphere. Comments talk about "sharpened knives" and "self-defence". Some see "civil war" looming where all politicians who have stood up for multiculturalism will end up "in the gallows". As the scene returns to pushing its agenda of Muslim-bashing, it is clear just how little these blogs and websites understand about their own responsibility in radicalising readers like Breivik.

For the more mainstream anti-Islamic movement, much has changed since Oslo. Xenophobic parties have been forced to underline that violence is not an instrument of political struggle. But a few outspoken politicians have refused to submit to the party whip.

Mario Borghezio, a parliamentarian of the Northern League (part of Italy's governing coalition), claimed that not only were all of Breivik's ideas good - some were even excellent. The parliamentarian Werner Königshofer was thrown out of the Freedom Party of Austria for connecting the attacks to the "Islamist threat" which has "slammed into Europe a thousand times more often". Inside the party, known for its racist statements, the expulsion is not accepted by everybody.

A local politician with the Sweden Democrats, a party represented in parliament, pointed the finger of blame at the multicultural Norwegian society. "If there had been no Islamisation or mass immigration, there would have been nothing to trigger Breivik's actions," wrote Erik Hellsborn.

Some right-wing commentators have called for a halt to any constructive analysis of the perpetrator's mind and motives. They are even more adamant when one highlights the similarities between the Oslo bomber's ideology and the anti-immigrant and particularly anti-Muslim views expressed openly in today's Europe. Breivik, many claim, was nothing more than a lone, crazed individual, his manifesto the ramblings of a mad man.

The conservative intelligentsia refuses to acknowledge the well-established connection between rhetoric and discrimination, even physical violence, against ethnic minorities. This should neither be regarded as some controversial new theory nor an undignified dig at political opponents - not given Europe's dark history of pogroms and the way most of them began - namely, with words.

It is uncomfortable to realise that Breivik was driven by the same conspiracy theory of "Islamisation" that has infiltrated the mainstream debate in Europe. And it is obvious that Breivik is a terrorist who share his politics with other ideologues, although his actions were so extreme.

When Islamist bombers commit acts of terror, it's a very different tune. The Muslim community has repeatedly come under fire for not distancing itself enough from extremists. No "lone crazy" theories there. Families of European suicide bombers are treated with suspicion in the press, even when they - like Breivik, Sr - have been out of touch with the relative in question for years.

In contrast, family members of the Oslo terrorist have been handled with silk gloves. Psychiatrists are lined up in TV studios world-wide to explain the psyche of the blonde terrorist, whereas his Islamist counterparts have their agenda - not their minds - picked apart. There's been a flood of surveys on the radicalisation process of Muslim youths, while the hate-fuelled, Islamophobic online milieu has thrived under the radar for years.

Breivik's motivation needs to be analysed to prevent future terrorist acts. What we have witnessed is the first anti-Muslim (but not right-wing extremist) terrorist attack on European soil. Just as the Islamist bombings in Madrid 2004 was followed by the London attacks of 2005, so too can the Islamophobic movement give birth to new militants willing to continue the Norwegian's anti-Muslim revolution.

If a fact-based analysis inadvertently steps on a few hypocritical toes, then so be it. It's a small sacrifice to make to bring the wide-spread European intolerance to light.

 

Maik Baumgärtner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist and author specialising in right-wing extremism. Lisa Bjurwald, based in Stockholm, is a freelance writer specialising in Europe's right-wing populist parties